The Future of Highway Infrastructure in 2019

Green infrastructure, electric cities, new sources of funding, and more will define infrastructure projects in the coming year

By Steve Weitzman

As we begin 2019, we are able to look at some of the current and up-and-coming trends shaking up the industries that surround highway infrastructure.

One of the biggest transitions is the movement towards green infrastructure. Over the past few years, more and more of the projects that Creative Design Resolutions (CDR) is tasked with designing include eco-friendly features such as water mitigation technologies, bike paths, and pedestrian facilities. For example, one of the highlighted elements of CDR’s design for Dayton, Ohio’s 3rd St Bridge is the lookout area along the pedestrian accessible slope wall. Features like these encourage commuters to walk instead of drive, in turn reducing the city’s emission levels and overall carbon footprint.

Another part of this movement is the push towards “electric cities.” Across the world, cities such as Madrid, Oslo, Paris, and Los Angeles have come together to sign the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration. This agreement states that starting in 2025, these 12 cities will only procure zero-emission buses and will “ensure that a major area of their city is zero emission by 2030.” This is a trend that we at CDR believe will not only continue, but will also intensify over the next few years.

A report published by the Federal Highway Administration stated that every dollar spent on infrastructure (roads, highways, and bridges in particular) returns $5.20. In a separate report by the data company Inrix, the average American spent about 42 hours stuck in traffic throughout 2017. This equates to a nationwide average loss of $1,400 per person, or a national loss of about $300 billion throughout the course of the year. If even half of the money wasted sitting in traffic last year was repurposed to rebuilding some of our bridge and highway infrastructure, according to the FHWA, we could save about $780 billion in future spending. For the past two decades, America’s infrastructure has not received higher than a C grade on the American Society of Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card. With the future savings that that we can accumulate from infrastructure improvement spending, we can set our sights on getting an A on the next report in 2021.

One of the biggest questions, which has become increasingly prevalent over the past few years, is whether we should privatize some of our nation’s larger infrastructure projects. When it comes to revitalizing our infrastructure, the most restricting factor has always been funding. Selling off some of these larger projects to private firms could prove to be the solution. However, this remedy does come with its drawbacks. Rep. Peter A. Defazio was quoted saying that it, “could work in very few places, and not resolve any of our major national issues.” Although the upfront costs of the project would be paid by the firm, people in the communities where these projects exist will be paying for these projects in the form of tolls for generations to come. The real question is this: do we want to pay for these projects now with our taxes, or through tolls for the unforeseeable future?

Since its launch in 2011, Uber has been changing the way we traverse our cities. The unparalleled ability for ride-sharing applications to match demand with supply in real time has had a direct effect on traffic congestion in major cities across the world. A study coming out of Arizona State University states, “Uber’s entry significantly decreases traffic congestion in the urban areas of the United States.” This study was performed using sample populations based out of urban areas. It suggests that excess fuel that is used up would decrease about 1.2 percent on average, equating to about a $43.5 million reduction in annual delay cost in the Phoenix urban area alone. This seems to be one of the few instances within the realm of infrastructure where convenience pays, rather than costs.

Infrastructure with aesthetics representing the local culture is becoming a common demand by their respective communities. After CDR completed the Winstar Boulevard Bridge in Thackerville, Oklahoma, local residents were not only pleased with the results, but were asking what was next. Mike Patterson, Director of Oklahoma DOT, stated that, “it caught the imagination of the public and they actually wanted more. It’s now part of our culture.” A design is only truly at its greatest potential when the standards of its structural design, geometric design, and aesthetic design are integrated with one another and in perfect balance. Does your office of procurement currently have a way to include aesthetic design into their project?

 

Steve Weitzman is the CEO of Creative Design Resolutions. He may be reached at steven@creativedesignresolutions.com

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